There are a number of verse in the Bible that people misinterpret and misuse. One can think of Jeremiah 29:11 whose misinterpretation and misuse is fueled by how the NIV translation has translated this verse:
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
We will discuss this verse in our next message but for now, Phillipians 4:13 falls among the most misinterpreted and misused verses. Here is the verse:
Philippians 4:13 (ESV Strong’s)
13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
All misinterpretations hang on a single Greek word “pas”, translated here as “all things”. All those who misinterpret and misuse this verse, do two things:
- They completely forget that there are 12 verses before this verse and there are 10 verses after it. It is as if Paul only wrote this verse in chapter 4. Why is this important? This is important because if you ignore all those other verses, you will completely take this verse out of its immediate context! Without the proper context, this verse can mean absolutely anything we want.
- They forget that when Paul wrote this letter to the Phillipians, he had a point. He wanted to convey a message which this verse is part of. They simply ignore this fact and hence loose the overall context.
This verse has generally being used to mean that as long as you are in Christ, he will give you the power to do or achieve anything. Passing exams, winning athletics, getting married, winnings lotto, anything and everything. As long as you are in Christ, well you can do and achieve anything with the strength you get from Him. This is definitely not what this verse means as you will see below.
What does this verse mean? To answer that, we need to know what did Paul mean by what he wrote, when he wrote it. As I said, context is very important so, we will start in verse 10 and end in verse 14:
Philippians 4:10-14 (ESV Strong’s)
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.
In verse 10, Paul tells the Phillipians that he is greatly rejoiced, happy that they have once again shown that they are concerned about him. Paul says it is not as of they were never concerned and started now but, they have always been concerned but, never had the opportunity to show that they are concerned.
Then in verse 11, he says that he is not happy about the concern showed towards him, because he is in need, in other words, it is not his poverty that makes him happy that they have shown concern for him. Why is Paul saying this? He gives a reason and he says it is because he has learned to be content in whatever situation. Therefore, Paul’s happiness is not because he sees somehow this concern by the Phillipians, as a ticket out of poverty. He is content with whatever situation he finds himself in, including poverty. His happiness is purely then, on the basis that they showed concern towards him.
In verse 12, Paul then expands what he means by being content in whatever situation. He gives more clarity to what he means. Paul says what he means is that he can handle being brought low, meaning being constrained ( based on verse 11, this means to have little) and he knows how to abound, meaning have plenty. Just to make sure that we get his point, Paul expands further by saying that, in whatever situation he means in plenty or in hunger, in poverty or in having more than he needs.
Therefore, verse 12 defines the parameters of the meaning of “whatever situation” in verse 11. Paul is emphasizing that, what he means by “whatever situation” is that, whether things are extremely bad for him or extremely good for him, he has learned with each situation to be content. What does content mean? It means to be self sufficient, to still be able to manage. He is able to handle extreme poverty or extreme abundance. This then brings us to verse 13.
With the information that you have now, at this point pause reading this message and read verse 13.
- How has the above information assisted you in understanding verse 13?
- Would you have understood verse 13 differently, if you didn’t have this information?
Here is verse 13:
13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Don’t continue reading until you have read verse 13 and answered the above questions. Done? Now continue reading:
Can you see how the meaning of “all things” is limited by the context? Given what Paul has already said, “all things” can only refer to what Paul has already discussed above, which is whatever situation he finds himself in, whether being it extreme poverty or extreme abundance. So, Paul says he can handle both extreme poverty and extreme abundance through Christ who strengthens him. In other words, his ability to be content in whatever situation, is derived from Christ who strengthens him.
Can you see this? Verse 13 is not written in isolation from verses 10-12. Verses 10-12 give a context to verse 13 and limits how we should interpret it.
To make sure we don’t wrongly interpret and misuse verse 13, in verse 14 Paul says although he can handle whatever situation through Christ who strengthens him, he nevertheless says to the Phillipians that, it was kind of them to share in his trouble. . In other words, although he was content whether he was facing extreme poverty or not, he appreciates the concern and the help that he received from the Phillipians.
“All things” in verse 13 doesn’t mean anything we want, it means what Paul wanted it to mean and Paul has told us what it means. Let’s accept Paul’s definition and not use ours. Context is very important as without it, the word of God can mean whatever we want.
So next time you quote this verse, you are actually saying that, even if God we’re to allow everything you have to be taken away, and allow you to live in extreme poverty, you will be content with that situation, because Christ strengthens you. Is that what you mean? If not, REPENT! Right now.